Wes Liston got his start playing music right here in Charleston, though born and raised in the upstate, under the mentoring of his neighbor Graham Whorley, a bona fide local legend and master of acoustic guitar/looping. According to Liston, this impactful partnership seems to have placed him firmly on the path.
Other strong voices informed Liston’s work along the way, too. “Being from the rural South, I have always been surrounded by country music, yet I have maintained a special place in my heart for soul music as well,” Liston said. “I’m a big fan of John Prine, Tyler Childers, Sturgil Simpson and those outlaw country guys, but I also truly appreciate Bill Withers, Otis Redding, Allen Stone and those guys with the R&B vibe.”
Liston eventually created his own patchwork style of performing, taking cues from the music and musicians he has been moved by his whole life. And once he became active professionally, it wasn’t long before he took on the enigmatic moniker Gritty Flyright.
“People always ask, ‘Is Gritty Flyright a band?’” Liston said. “It’s odd, because Gritty Flyright has become my personal stage handle as a singer-songwriter and half the people around town just call me ‘Gritty’ now instead of Wes. I perform solo shows as Gritty Flyright and sometimes feature one or two other guys as special guests, but when it’s a full group we tend to book it as Gritty Flyright with The Music Family.”
As his music career gained momentum, Liston cut his teeth on covering songs made popular by other acts, but songcraft was important for this Lowcountry maverick from the very beginning. Even during the dark days of the pandemic, Liston busied himself with writing more and more highly-refined tunes.
His recently released LP, Tales of the Famously Unknown, is a celebration of his artistic persistence and progress thus far. In fact, it’s a damn fine collection of 10 true stories written over the last three years of Liston’s life.
“This record is my debut album and very special to me because it’s all based on honest events and influences. I think it stands out because each song is more of a story rather than just a track to vibe to. I didn’t want to cheat a single word with any type of predictability or cheese,” Liston told City Paper.
To accomplish such an impressive feat right out of the gate, Liston followed a tried and true pattern. “The writing process for me starts with a feeling or thought, followed by me trying to put words to that emotion, then arranging the music to support the story,” he explained. “It’s pretty old-school with me sitting out in the shed in the backyard with paper and pencil trying to make it make sense over an acoustic guitar.”
From there, Liston said, he usually leaves it to the pros to flesh out.
“Once I have the track written and can successfully play it on acoustic guitar I take it to producers Ian Guthrie and Brad Phillips at Studio 101 [in Woodruff, S.C],” he said.
“These guys are first-class, from the equipment and session guys they use to the overall vision and attention to detail given to each project. It was such a wonderful experience to bring a piece to them and explain the message and what the song means and then have the opportunity to grow it into its full potential with a team of great musicians.”
The highly anticipated album, which features such standout tracks as “Statesman’s Plea” and “Dreaming with Me,” is currently available on all the usual streaming platforms. There is also a limited amount of vinyl copies available for purchase at local retailers including Monster Music & Movies.
Now that this all-consuming project is finally out in the universe, Liston is excited to be bringing this song cycle to life for audiences everywhere. His upcoming concert at the Pour House will help kick off Labor Day weekend in style and will also usher in the venue’s own 20th anniversary celebration.
Catch Gritty Flyright + The Music Family at 6 p.m. on Sept. 1 at Charleston Pour House. Tickets available at charlestonpourhouse.com.
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